Read The Night Falconer Online
Authors: Andy Straka
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery, #General, #Mystery & Detective
All right,” Marbush said. “I’ll let patrol know about it. Anything else?”
“You still think this whole thing is some kind of fool’s errand.”
Marbush scratched the back of her head. “I don’t know, Darla. And no disrespect to either of you. But it’s the middle of summer. Kids are off school. The homeless don’t have as much need for the shelters. Right now, I’ve got a caseload that would break your heart. A lot of minor stuff, but several bigger offenses too. So if you’re asking me do I have time to go chasing down some woman’s lost cat or searching for some phantom bird man, the answer is no.
“Even if there might be a link to what happened out at LaGuardia, all you’ve really got are vague threats and some missing pets. Why don’t you touch base with me again after the holiday. That’s about the best I can offer you right now.”
“Fair enough,” Darla said.
Marbush turned her quizzical gaze on me. “Pavlicek, your reputation precedes you. What’s your interest in all this?”
“Help out an old friend,” I said, nodding at Darla. “Maybe rein in some guy with a big bird who’s gone off the reservation. That was about as far as it went until the knife thing.”
“You think there’s something more here?”
“I do. What do you know about this developer, Watisi?”
She shrugged. “Whatever I read in the papers, same as everybody else.”
“He’s clean then.”
“Far as the NYPD is concerned. There may be tenant complaints and such. You can talk to the housing authority. But nothing criminal that I’ve ever heard of.”
“What a guy,” I said. “So much money and he’s probably never even been audited.”
“That, I wouldn’t know.”
Darla shifted in her seat. “Frank and I have both tried to talk with this guy, but he’s stiff arming us. Can’t you give us any help at all?”
“If we start finding solid ties to Watisi or his building regarding these threats,” Marbush said. “Then we can start bringing some heat.”
Phones rang almost simultaneously somewhere across the building and for a moment I was back in my own precinct fifteen years before.
It had been different then, of course. Different time and place. The 45
Precinct had been housed in a much older building in the Bronx. But a similar uncertainty hung in the air, a stale, institutional shabbiness that went beyond the dust in the corners, the smell of gun leather, or the urine stink of a drunk. As a cop, you had to learn to keep a lid on your feelings, had to learn to listen impassively and with grave attention, because somebody had to wade knee deep into the garbage and attempt to sort it all out.
“You still with us, Frank?” Darla asked. She and Lt. Marbush were staring at me.
“Yeah, I’m here,” I said. “You know what?”
“Watisi thinks of himself as being noble.”
“So?” Darla shrugged. “Don’t we all?”
“Yeah, but standing by the car earlier, he wanted to talk about falconry and chivalry.”
“What are you getting at?”
“I don’t know yet,” I said. “Just something buzzing around in the back of my brain.”
Though her shift had ended, Jayani Miller was still working when I returned to the lobby of Grayland Tower. Out through the glass doors, she and her fellow security guard were helping a statuesque blonde fit a feeble old man into the passenger seat of a gray sports car parked in the turnout.
Somehow, their earpieces and finely tailored suits didn’t look so impressive when they were playing doormen. I guess every job has its lesser moments.
As the Mercedes slid out into traffic, the two came back inside to assume their posts behind the desk.
Jayani smiled at me. “You made it.”
“Promised you, didn’t I? You still working? I thought you finished up at five.”
“Nah, I’m done. Just helping out until you showed up.” She nodded at her partner, who seemed ready to begin shouldering his duties alone. This was not the same man who had been working with her earlier. The other guard must already have left for the day.
“There’s a coffee shop two doors down,” Jayani said. “You want to buy me a cup?”
“You got it.”
A couple of minutes later, she sat across from me sipping a Grande Mocha. I myself made do with a bottle of sparkling water. Figured I’d save the additional caffeine imbibing until later when I might really need it.
Once she was out of range of her place of employment—with her earpiece tucked away in a pocket—Jayani seemed like just one more bright ambitious young person in a city always looking for fresh faces. But for the discreet Grayland Tower insignia on her breast pocket, she might have worked on Wall Street or for a publishing company.
“Okay,” I began. “I know you’ve been through all this before, Jayani. But I’d like you to tell me again exactly what you think you saw the other night.”
“Not what I think I saw,” she said. “What I know I saw.”
“It was three days ago. I was working the graveyard shift that evening, not much happening, a pretty quiet night.”
“Alone?” I asked.
“Yeah. Just like you saw now. We only keep one guard on after midnight during the week and after five on the weekends. It’s mostly the snooze patrol.”
“Anyways, about three o’clock in the morning, I hear this thud against the glass out in front. Not real loud or anything, just a thud. So I stepped outside to check on it.”
“What did you see?”
“I didn’t see anything at first. There’s a Japanese Maple between the street and the sidewalk around the corner. I was thinking maybe it was a squirrel or a bat or something that flew out of the tree. Then I saw the guy with the bird running down the sidewalk across the street. They disappeared into the alleyway between the buildings.”
“You saw a guy with a bird? You’re sure?”
“What kind of bird?”
“Well, I’m not very good at identifying birds. It was big. I thought it might be some kind of eagle or something.”
“What did you do then?”
“I yelled out, ‘Hey! Hold up!’ But the guy didn’t even turn to look at me, just kept going.”
“You see anybody else on the street, anything else unusual?”
“Nope. It was kind of eerie, to tell you the truth. I went back inside and called the cops to report a prowler. A patrol car cruised by a couple of minutes later, but by then he was long gone.”
“So you’re sure this was a man you saw running?”
“Pretty sure, yeah. But I didn’t really get a look at his face. He was wearing, like, a baseball cap.”
“Couldn’t really say.”
“How was he holding the bird?”
“He had something covering his hand. The bird was sitting on it, and he was holding the bird up and out, almost like you’d hold a torch.”
“Could you make out any coloring on the bird?”
She shrugged. “Not really.”
“Was the bird still or moving? Did it spread its wings?”
“No, sir. That thing was as still as a stuffed animal.”
“Maybe it was a stuffed animal.”
“No. That was it, you see? Just before they hit the alley, the bird turned its head around and looked at me. Like it was spinning on a swivel or something. I saw its eyes.”
“What kind of eyes?”
“Big yellow ones. It creeped me out.”
“What about the profile of the bird’s head when it turned. Was the back of the head tapered or squared?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“What shape was the bird’s head?”
She thought for a moment. “I don’t know, I was focused on those eyes.”
“So hey, you think this guy’s out at night hunting with that bird?”
“Possibly,” I said.
“Some kind of weirdo. Are you going to try to catch him?”
“Mind if I tag along? That would be something to see.”
I thought about it for a moment. An extra set of eyes might be useful, especially at night. But I decided we better not. “Thanks,” I said. “I think we’ve got enough hands on deck at the moment.”
“But I appreciate the offer.”
“Have you read the newspaper article about the missing pets?”
“Sure. Everybody’s talking about it.”
“If this man with the bird is responsible, how do you think he got the pets out of the building?”
She shrugged. “They didn’t come by me or anyone else working the security desk, unless …”
“Unless it was someone who already lives here. They could’ve smuggled them out. People come by carrying all sorts of stuff, and it’s not like we search them when they’re going out or anything.”
“Okay. That’s good. Anything else you remember that might be helpful?”
She thought for a minute then shook her head. “No, not really.” She tapped her extra-long fingernails on the table, clearly ready to end the interview. The nails seemed out of sync with the rest of her, almost as if they were the remnants of a different kind of past.
“Okay, just one more quick thing,” I said. “What’s it like working for Dominick Watisi?”
“Mr. Watisi?” Her demeanor became all business again. “Well, you know, I don’t really have any direct contact with Mr. Watisi himself. I’m the senior guard here, but my supervisor’s up at Mr. Watisi’s office in Harlem. He reports to a vice-president who reports to Mr. Watisi.”
“You’ve met the man though?”
“Sure. A couple of times.”
“How long have you been working for the company?”
“Most of the people who work for the organization happy?”
“I think so. The pay’s good and the hours aren’t bad. I’m taking classes toward my bachelor’s two nights a week.”
“What do you know about the lawsuit between Grayland Tower apartment owners and Watisi?”
She hesitated for a moment. “Nothing, really. My boss says we’re not supposed to talk about it. We’re supposed to just go on with business as usual. The lawsuit is for the lawyers and newspapers to get all worked up about.”
I said nothing.
“I’ve got to get going.” She forced a tight smile.
“This guy you say you saw with the bird could be totally unrelated to Mr. Watisi, you know.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m just telling you what I saw. You people are the detectives—you figure it out. I gotta go.” She pushed away from the table and stood to leave.
“Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, Jayani.”
She hurried out the door of the coffee shop and disappeared up the sidewalk.
A few seconds later, Nicole appeared on the sidewalk and entered the shop.
“I thought I’d find you here.”
“Did you see Jayani go by you just now?” I asked.
“Yeah. I bumped into her. She confirmed my guess.”
“She say anything else?”
“No. She seemed in a hurry. Why?”
“Nothing. Just wondering.”
“Think she’s legit?”
“Near as I can tell.”
“She looked worried about something.”
“Maybe just her job.”
“She saw something then?”
“So it appears.”
“Sounds like it.”
“Could the guy really be hunting with a bird like that at three o’clock in the morning, right here in the middle of the city?”
“Or just carrying it around for some other purpose. Maybe for show.”
“Harry Potter,” she said.
“You know, the Harry Potter books. Harry’s got a snowy owl named Hedwig.”
“Except I don’t see any witches or warlocks or magic flying brooms around here,” she said looking over her shoulder.
“Well if you do, you be sure and let me know.”
“I can do better than that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Our apartment’s got a great high speed internet connection,” she said. “Wait until you see what I’ve found.”
Nicole hunched over her laptop in the kitchen of our temporary apartment. She’d been surfing the web, she said, for the past couple of hours, trying to find more information about Dominic Watisi and his various enterprises as well as our client Dr. Lonigan and the Grayland Tower restoration.
One bonus: our apartment was as nice as the finest suite at the Ritz-Carlton. The floors were covered in the plushest thickest pile carpet I’d ever sunk my toes into. The furniture was top of the line deco modern. The kitchen, like Lonigan’s, was enormous and chockfull of the latest super sized appliances and conveniences. In the bathrooms heated Mediterranean tile on the floors would keep our bare feet from ever suffering a chill as we stepped from the shower.
“So what do you have?” I asked.
She flexed her fingers and pounded the keyboard. “A lot. First of all, our client isn’t all she’s cracked up to be.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Dr. Lonigan was arrested twice in Oregon in the 1980s on suspicion of vandalism and arson.”
“No. The charges were eventually dropped.”
“Let me guess. Something to do with logging.”
“You got it. She was part of the movement that said they were trying to save the spotted owl.”
“Woman must have a thing for owls. But so what? She was probably just out of college then, right?”
“Yup. Vassar, class of ‘84.”
“So she earns her spurs in left wing activism, grows up a little, and moves back east to go to medical school and enter the real world.”
“More or less.”
“And she’s made no secret that she’s still an animal rights activist.”
“Not just that, she’s listed as a major contributor for about half a dozen different groups, most of which have to do with the environment or animals.”
“So what’s your point?”
“I just think we should watch ourselves with her, that’s all.”
“You think she may have more of an agenda here than she’s letting on?”
“What about Watisi?”
“His background’s a little bit harder to crack.”
“Why am I not surprised.”
“He’s been here in the United States since the early 70’s, been a citizen for more than twenty years. He’s involved in a lot of limited partnerships and various financing deals.”